NEW YORK - The last American man to win a grand slam and to hold the world number one ranking, Andy Roddick ended his tennis career on centre court at the U.S. Open on Wednesday after an enviable career that still might have left some fans wondering what if.
Roddick was the latest link to a long tradition of top flight American men's players, following a golden period that featured John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors, Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi.
Armed with an explosive serve launched by a coiled windup, Roddick became a grand slam singles champion at 21 when he won the 2003 U.S. Open, defeating Juan Carlos Ferrero in the final.
He was world number one by the end of 2003 and expectations rose that he would carry on the U.S. run of supremacy.
Roddick's reign, however, was short-lived as Roger Federer had also just broken through, winning his first grand slam title months earlier at Wimbledon, which began his era as the game's dominant player.
The Swiss master has gone on to notch a record 17 grand slam crowns, and thwarted the American in his four other appearances in grand slam finals.
"I fell right on the back end of the golden generation, and so that was just the cards that were dealt," Roddick told reporters after his 6-7 7-6 6-2 6-4 loss to 2009 Open champion Juan Martin del Potro of Argentina in their fourth-round match.
Roddick won 32 tournament titles, led the United States to the 2007 Davis Cup and was the top U.S. player throughout the majority of his career, but the 30-year-old American could never live up to the outsized achievements of his predecessors.
"But as tough a situation as it is, in the grand scheme of things it's a dream," Roddick said about a career playing the game he loved. "It's something you want. That's not hard.
"There was a lot of tough moments but unbelievable moments. I mean, who gets to play in Wimbledon finals and who gets to play in an Open and who gets to be part of a winning (Davis Cup)team? Most people don't get to experience that."
Born in Omaha, Nebraska, Roddick's family moved to Austin, Texas, before he followed his older, tennis playing brother to Florida to hone his game.
He won six world junior singles titles and seven world junior doubles titles, and won the U.S. Open and Australian Open junior singles titles in 2000.
Three years later Roddick made his big splash in the professional game in winning the title at Flushing Meadows.
While he never again reached those lofty heights, he continued playing at an elite level, reaching four other grand slam finals, at Wimbledon in 2004, 2005 and 2009, and at the U.S. Open in 2006, losing to Federer each time.
The 2009 Wimbledon final was a classic and despite ending in defeat for the American it will be remembered as one of Roddick's brightest moments.
The taut slugfest featured rallies of the highest order and Roddick pressed Federer throughout in a thrilling display before succumbing 16-14 in the fifth set.
On Wednesday, Roddick, as so often in the past, was the last American man remaining in the Open when he was shown the exit.
"I have never been against having company, you know," he said about wishing more success for other American players. "I would have loved for a lot more of us to have still been in."
Roddick said high expectations came with the territory for U.S. tennis players.
"I wasn't going to shy away from it, for sure," Roddick said about the pressures that come with the limelight. "I mean, you get knocked down. You know the burden. I understand it.
"I understand the fact that we come from a place which probably had more success than any other tennis country where there are certain expectations."
Quick with a quip, or a funny imitation of celebrated players, Roddick often displayed a sharp-edged sense of humor.
At other times, he could be temperamental, especially toward umpires, and churlish, particularly toward the media when the mood hit him.
The Arthur Ashe Stadium crowd, however, showed their appreciation of Roddick with cheers for him in an emotional farewell.
"I know the thing that is certain is I didn't take any of it for granted," Roddick said about his career. "I think I went about things the right way. The umpires might disagree with me."
Asked how he hoped to be remembered, Roddick said: "I want everyone to look back and think that I was awesome," drawing more laughs from reporters.
And would Roddick be going out to celebrate his retirement?
"I'm probably not going to be opposed to a beer or ten. We'll see how that goes," he said, leaving them laughing in the press room.
(Editing by Greg Stutchbury)